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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le cas de Chantal Sebire rouvre le debat sur l’euthanasie

by Alexandre Fasche

Chantal Sébire’s case has re-opened the debate on the issue of euthanasia.

Translated Saturday 22 March 2008, by Susannah Readett-Bayley

Ethics. On Monday, the court will give its verdict on Chantal Sébire’s euthanasia request. She is 52 and suffering from a terminal illness (esthesioneuroblastoma or ENB).1

It’s a distressed appeal. Yet another in the long list unheard by the French legal system that continues to outlaw active euthanasia. Last Wednesday, Chantal Sébire, 52, a former school teacher and mother of 3 suffering from a terminal tumour in her sinus and nasal cavity – the cause of terrible pain - requested that one of her doctors be allowed to induce her death. The president of Dijon’s Tribunal de Grand Instance (TGI)2 “would not be considering the verdict until next Monday” confirmed Chantal Sébire’s lawyer, Maître Gilles Antonowicz.

Since then, responses and reactions abound, including those coming from the highest echelons of the government. Nicolas Sarkozy (French president) asked his advisor on health and medical research, Professor Arnold Munnich, head of this service at the Necker Hospital to “make contact” with Mrs Sébire after receiving a letter from her. According to the Elysée spokesman, David Martinon, “a fresh judgement will be given to her particular situation by a group made up of the highest level of medical professionals to ensure that all the medical eventualities have been explored. This has not yet been proved.”

Francois Fillon, the prime minister did not appear any more favourable to Chantal Sébire’s plight. “We have reached the boundary of what society can say, what the law can do” he said, adding “if the court’s verdict is negative, she still has the first solution she was proposed, and for me this is acceptable”.

This solution is to induce an artificial coma which, after several days or even weeks, will end in death — a proposition refused by Mrs Séguire. A proposition equally that disgusts the president of the ADMD (Association for the Right to Die with Dignity). “The lady we are talking about is fully conscious, is talking like you and me and is suffering from a terminal illness whose end is near” insists the head of ADMD who has been supporting Mrs Séguire for the last 2 weeks. “and all we suggest for her is to put her to sleep so her death is long and drawn-out. This is total hypocrisy which must be addressed by a change in the law.”

An idea immediately rejected by the Minister of Justice Rachida Dati “The medical profession is not there to administer lethal substances” she confirmed this morning on France-Inter. “This lady is asking the law to exonerate a doctor from legal responsibility for administering a lethal substance (...) This is not within our law, a law founded on the European Convention of human rights and the right to live’ she spelled out, insisting that Chantal Sébire’s case can not be categorized as ’end of life’.

However, on 27th February, the former teacher told the AFP3; “Today, I’ve reached the end of what I am able to suffer, and my sons and my daughters can’t watch me suffer anymore” In his appeal to the president of Dijon’s TGI, Maître Antonowicz described a tumour that has “ravaged” Chantal Sébire’s face, causing her to “lose taste, smell and sight.” This “intense and permanent” suffering cannot be relieved by administering morphine “due to the side effects of this antaligic’. In short, this mother is living a daily battle of ’irreversible deterioration’ that she refuses to accept.

If the case seems to have fallen on deaf ears amongst the authorities, it appears equally to worry the former president of the French Society for Support and Palliative Care, Bernard Devalois “Pro-euthanasia activists will exploit all these high profile situations to fight for the legalisation, not of euthanasia, but of assisted suicide” accuses the current head of the palliative care unit of Puteaux (Hauts-de-Seine region). “It’s not about someone who’s at the end of their life, in a coma, asking that their agony be shortened by a few days. Here, it’s about asking society to organise the suicide of its members. There is no way society will ever be allowed to ask its doctors to become executioners of such a terrible act. Yes – this lady’s situation is terrible and yes it incites public opinion, but just because a situation is tragic doesn’t mean the cause it is fighting for is a just one.”


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